Book #5: The Bee Season by Myla Goldberg.
This is a book I haven't made up my mind about yet. If I say that it was "interesting" that might make people think it is not worth the read. It is, but I don't think the book is for everyone. If you're depressed, don't read it. If you don't want to read about a dysfunctional family, falling apart at the seams, don't read it. But it IS a book worth reading, by the people who can stand it. How's that for a weird recommendation?
The book is about a Jewish family: Eliza, a 9 year old who has been put in the "ungifted" class at school, her older brother Aaron, her mother, the more than tightly wound Miriam, and her cantor father Saul, who is interested in Jewish mysticism.
Eliza has been the loved but kind of ignored "dumb" little sister/daughter, until it comes to light that she has a gift--when she wins the school spelling bee. The first part of the book details her trip to the national bee, and you see the cracks in the family beginning to show.
The second half of the book is different. Saul decides that his daughter has the ability to attempt to reach oneness with God through a method described by a rabbi named Abulafia. Saul himself has never had the gift to reach for that contact, and his pushing of his daughter toward it is the perfect example of a parent trying to live through the achievements of a child. In the meantime, Miriam (the mother) is spiralling down into her own obsession--the hunt for Perfectimundo--something she has searched for since she was a child. She has never been a particularly present mother, but with Saul over-involved with Eliza, her obsession picks up steam and takes control of her life.
At the same time, Aaron, the son and questing teenager, feels pushed out of his father's life and continues looking for that something to fill him up. He finds it with the Hare Krishnas, to the dismay and anger of his father.
Everything is a smashup at the end, with the only shred of hope coming in Eliza's final decision on the last page of the book.
A good, highly imaginative, first novel. It'll be interesting to see what Goldberg has to say next.